Skechers GoBionic 2 Review and A Run Through the Development Process
Posted on April 30 2014
I have been working with Skechers as a wear tester/consultant for several years now, with the majority of my time spent in the GoRun and GoBionic shoes. My closet is filled with prototypes of many iterations of these shoes, and right now I have protos of a few other shoes sitting on the floor next to my desk (including the GoRun 4, GoUltra 2, GoMeb 3, and Meb’s training shoe which is an entirely new model). It’s all great fun, but interestingly enough I’ve yet to race in a Skechers shoe – that may soon change as the GoRun 4 and GoMeb 3 are awesome (and substantial) updates.
One of the cool things about helping out in the shoe design process is that you get to watch the development of a shoe from a relative “rough draft” to a finished product that will wind up on store shelves. The wear test process generally involves around 4-5 iterations of a shoe, with each successive iteration honing the product down to the final version. Sometimes the first iteration is almost there, sometimes it needs a lot of work and significant changes are made. There’s often a lot of debate among wear testers – it’s interesting to see varied perspectives on a given shoe, and sometimes people get very passionate about things they do or do not want to be changed (I was involved in one such email exchange just yesterday!).
I received my first pair of Skechers GoBionic 2 prototypes right around this time last year. I was prepping for the Vermont City Marathon at the time, and after a few runs I started to seriously consider using them in the race. I liked them that much. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get in a long run in them to see how they’d hold up over distance, and race day was cold and wet (the sole of the GB does not handle puddles well), so I wisely opted to use a shoe that I had more experience with.
My first impression of the of the GB2 was very positive. I was never really crazy about the moccasin-style construction and aesthetic of the original GoBionic, and Skechers had opted to refresh the upper with a much more athletic looking design. I thought the update looked fantastic. The flexible, zero drop sole was carried over unchanged from the original, but Skechers opted to add a thin layer of cushion to the footbed below the insole (it’s a finished footbed like the original, so you can run with or without the insole). They also swapped out the thin, flat insole from the GB1 with a thicker, 4mm drop insole in the GB2 (there were issues with folding/bunching of the insole in the original GoBionic since it was so thin, and it was hoped the 4mm drop option would open up the market for the shoe a bit). The combo gave the update a slightly cushier feel compared to the original, and I felt that it was better suited to longer distances as a result.
One of the things I’ve come to anticipate is that shoe prototypes will sometimes have mistakes that originate in the factory. I was told that the mesh on the round 1 sample was incorrect (the upper shoe below). I was actually disappointed because I loved the mesh they had used, and advocated continuously for them to keep it. No luck, but no big deal really as it was mostly an aesthetic preference.
Skechers GoBionic 2 – round 1 sample (top), round 2 (bottom). Note the change to the red upper mesh.
You’ll notice in the above photo that the upper material changes over the forefoot to an open mesh underlain by a thicker layer of cushiony mesh (the black part with the triangular cutouts). This is very similar to the design of the GoRun 3, and it’s very stretchy. Probably one of the more significant changes in the GB2 is that the forefoot feels even more roomy than that of the original, and the new stretchy upper in this area is likely the reason for that. I find it a very comfortable and accommodating fit. I’ve even wondered if sizing down might be warranted, but I’m right on that borderline and I haven’t found the roominess to be an issue.
After running in the round 1 sample for a bit, my two major comments were that the upper was a bit baggy around the midfoot, and the shoe absorbed and held onto water too easily (partly why I opted not to race in them in VT). The new layer of cushion added to the top of the sole was particularly prone to absorbing and holding water. The image below is the image I sent to Kurt at Skechers pointing out where I felt the fit was a bit sloppy (compared to the Nike Free 3.0, which I felt was the closest comparison to the GoBionic).
Both of these issues were addressed in subsequent iterations – there was progressive work done to snug up the midfoot fit, and attempts were made to reduce water flow through the sole from below by adding a waterproofing compound. I’m still not sure I’d recommend this shoe on a really wet day, but it is improved from that original sample. Most of the other tweaks in subsequent iterations were small. A layer of brushed fabric was added to the top of the footbed to increase comfort when running sans insole, fit issues were addressed, etc.
One other change in prototype 2 that disappointed me was that they changed the tongue by removing a layer of that cushiony mesh (you can see it in the shoe on the right in the image below). I liked the aesthetic with that mesh present, and it also helped to reduce pressure from the laces above. The production tongue is very thin and looks a bit plain – this remains my biggest complaint about the production shoe.
All told I think I tried four iterations of the GoBionic 2 (the black shoe on the top is the finished product):
So how does the final product perform?
I liked running in the original GoBionic, and I liked running in the GoBionic 2 from the very first prototype. The midsole is identical, but the slight increase in softness due to the new insole and layer of cushion added to the footbed created just enough cush to make for a more comfortable ride (I tend to like a softer shoe). It’s still a tad firmer that the GoRun I think, and of the two I think I may actually prefer the GoBionic 2 over the GoRun 3 for that reason (though I am a bit smitten with the GoRun 4…).
Like the original, the sole is incredibly flexible and the shoe runs very quietly given the lack of an extensive outsole. You will pick up rocks in the sole flex grooves, so be prepared to pick them out after each run – the GoBionic is very much like the Nike Free in this regard. And since I’ve mentioned the Free, I’ll say that the Free shoes are probably the closest comparison to the GoBionic. The main differentiators are that the GoBionic is zero drop without the insole, and the GoBionic is far roomier in the forefoot. The latter in particular makes this a great casual shoe for me, and I wear them to the office frequently (the all black version is pretty conservative looking for those who don’t like bright colors). I’d also compare the GoBionic to the Brooks PureDrift, but I find the ride of the GB2 to be much more comfortable and not as harsh as that of the Drift.
As with the previous version, the one big concern with the GoBionic 2 will be durability due to the lack of extensive outsole rubber. If you tend to be hard on shoe soles, that may be a an issue with these. I also did have an issue with one of the upper overlays peeling off in one of the prototypes, but it didn’t happen in any of the others and may have been a manufacturing issue in that one pair.
I’m not really sure how many miles I’ve run in these shoes since I’ve been through so many iterations. I just ran another 6 in them earlier today for a final refresher, and it seems every time I take them out I’m reminded of what a great little shoe this is. I’m obviously a bit biased since I helped to birth it (that sounds a bit weird…), but I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Skechers GoBionic 2. If you want a super flexible shoe with a roomy toebox, ability to swap between 0 and 4mm drop, and just enough cush under foot to make for a comfy ride, these are definitely worth a shot.
The Skechers GoBionic 2 is available for purchase at Skechers.com and at Shoebuy.com. You can take 20% off the sale price at Shoebuy by using the code 20MAY (codes should apply to any of the Skechers Performance shoes – view full selection here).
[Disclosure: I like to be honest about my connections, so I should disclose that I have done some paid consulting work for Skechers on a model currently in development. The wear testing that I do is all unpaid, and I have received no compensation for the work done on the shoe being reviewed here (other than receiving the prototype shoes provided, most of which will be donated). To demonstrate that I don’t love every shoe I wear test, I’ll openly tell you that the Skechers GoRun Ride and the GoMeb Speed 1 and 2 were not good matches for me, and I wear tested those as well.]